Before beginning this blog post, I polled my ELA 10 class to discover their beliefs about the acceptable age to start using social media. The results were surprising. They believed students should be allowed to start social media at the age of 14. This was surprising because when I followed up by asking when they started using it, the majority said they started at age 10. These (informal) results tell me that students do understand and appreciate the need for social media, yet even they understand a certain level of maturity must accompany it.
Parents should accept and not fight the inevitable inclusion of Social Media.
I will begin my argument on the understanding that all students joining social media are doing so at an age and maturity that is appropriate for them. Rather than fighting the possibility of our children developing a negative footprint, we instead must embrace the reasons that social media might actually help our children. Society continues to evolve and our childhood is vastly different than that of our children. While we may have hung out at the park, they may have “digital hangouts” in chatrooms or group messaging. Furthermore, social media allows students to easily discover new interests. Certainly all of these new interests may not be positive, but at that point it is our job as parents/teachers to ensure our children are informed enough to make the correct decision and comfortable enough to communicate if they stumble across something negative or dangerous. Finally, from a teaching perspective, social media allows our students to easily collaborate with each other outside of a classroom setting. The positives of websites such as Skype, or Google Hangout that we emphasize in class are likely already being used by our students independently. None of that is possible if we do not embrace social media as a new digital, communication platform.
Creating Communities and Fostering Social Identity
As a society, attention is always drawn to the most sensationalist, negative, dangerous stories or people. The fact remains that the vast, vast majority of students using social media have no problems at all and only a fraction of them are misusing the applications. We obviously still not to be cognizant of the dangers but as Caroline Knorr states, “as a parent, you can help nurture the positive aspects simply by accepting how important social media is for kids and helping them find ways for it to add real value to their lives.” For when children are aware of the dangers and focus on the positive aspects of the internet, there is so much positivity and kindness to be found. A heartwarming example can be found on a Reddit forum, where “an entire online community used voice-conferencing software to talk a teen out of his decision to commit suicide.” If only our society could reach a point where we focused on the positive aspects of social media as much as the negative, acceptance at large would be much easier.
Still Concerns to be Aware of
While a focus on the positive nature of social media is our best bet, there is still concerns we need to be aware of as parents/teachers. This Susan Tardanico article discusses our overreliance on texting being our main form of communication. She references a study that says 93% of communication is nonverbal, whether it be a tone of voice, an eye roll or slumped shoulders, these are all aspects that we are unable to see through digital communication. As well, students are graduating to the work force with a “lack of comfort with traditional interpersonal communication.” Furthermore, George Bowden discusses cyberbullying, which can lead to “increased anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation… in children.” While these are certainly problems to be aware of, they are in no means an excuse to completely cut social media out of our lives. Rather, we as parents/teachers need to be sure to explain the dangers of cyberbullying and to emphasize moderation in digital communication. If we can have our students communicate effectively through social media AND using interpersonal skills, then we have done our part to ensure their best chance of success moving forward.